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Wildfire, fire management and air quality news for western Montana and the Northern Rockies.

Montana Wildfire Update For August 21, 2020

Montana Wildfire News

Fire crews in Missoula spent the day Friday mopping up the remnants of Thursday’s grass fire that scorched the face of Mount Sentinel just south of the University of Montana.

Missoula Fire Chief Jeff Brandt needs only one word to describe the cooperative multi-agency effort to knock down Thursday evening’s high-profile 25-acre just behind UM married student housing.


Two helicopters, two single engine air tankers and almost 40 firefighters quickly joined forces to suppress the fire which broke out within the city limits, on Mount Sentinel.

"That’s a valuable resource for Missoula and the city. We value the land, we value the forest and we certainly value those structures up and over into Pattee canyon.”

An airplane drops retardant on a grass fire burning on Mount Sentinel in Missoula, MT, August 20, 2020.
Credit Peyton Butler
An airplane drops retardant on a grassfire burning on Mount Sentinel in Missoula, MT, August 20, 2020.

Chief Brandt estimates yesterday’s fire suppression effort on Sentinel could wind up costing roughly $100,000. If someone is held responsible for starting that fire Brandt says he or she may wind up footing at least part of that tab. He says full recreational access to the mountain was expected to be restored by end of day Friday.

An investigation into the Mount Sentinel fire’s start is underway.

Fire activity on the Bear Creek Fire in the Lemhi pass are was "relatively quiet" Thursday, according to an update posted Friday morning on inciweb. Officials report the size of the fire as 8,500 acres and say it's 20 percent contained. Crews continue work to improve fire lines and prep for possible burnout operations, weather permitting. Road and trail closures remain in effect.

The 73-acre Wood Lake Fire west of Augusta is reported as 30 percent contained as of a morning update posted on inciweb. Crews are working to reinforce water drops and retardant line ahead of thunderstorms forecast for the weekend.

A temporary closure has been placed on Wood Lake, Wood Lake campground, Wood Lake picnic area, and the Petty-Crown Trailhead and associated loop trail. In addition, all dispersed camping will be closed from the Forest boundary along Benchmark Road to Wood Lake. However, Benchmark Road will remain open to through traffic at this time. Motorists are asked not to stop in the fire vicinity in order to keep roads open and safe for both public and fire traffic.

Smoke from fires in California and Idaho is expected to continue moving into western and central Montana this weekend.

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Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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